Let’s talk about animal relationships in film

Back in June, we talked about how accurately animals are being portrayed in Disney films. This time, let’s move on from individual characters and talk about the interesting relationships between animals portrayed in different animated films and how they are like in real life.

  1. Musophobia

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Credit: http://www.cartoonswallpapers.net/dumbo/timothy-mouse-dumbo-walt-disney-characters-hd-wallpaper-image-phone/

In Disney’s “Dumbo”, Dumbo the elephant was seen hiding in a haystack avoiding Timothy the mouse after it has tickled his trunk. Timothy told Dumbo that this fear came from the primordial reversed sizes of elephants and mice, which elephants in “present time” still couldn’t forget.

There has always been a misconception that elephants are afraid of mice due to the fear of them running up their trunk, or that their small and agile movements make their movements unpredictable. How true is this in real life?

A popular Discovery series “Mythbusters” tested out the hypothesis of elephants being afraid of mice in one of their episodes and they concluded that elephants are indeed afraid of mice.

Josh Plotnik, a researcher of elephant behaviour and intelligence, posits otherwise. He debunked this myth by arguing that elephants react the way they do when they see a mouse not because of fear, but more of an element of surprise. He proceeded to explain that anything that runs or slither can likely startle elephants in the wild and induce a similar reaction.

Looks like elephants’ specific fear of mice is indeed a myth, but aren’t we all glad that Dumbo overcame his fear and became friends with Timothy in the end?

  1. Mutualism

Some of the greatest examples of animal mutualism are found in the sea. And what better movie to watch than Disney’s Finding Nemo for a good idea of the life under the sea?

Mutualism refers to a relationship where two species of organisms both benefit from the presence of one another.

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Credit: https://nypost.com/2017/07/17/finding-nemo-is-a-hermaphroditic-lie-says-science/

In Finding Nemo’s opening scene, Nemo’s first day of school, he was seen waking his dad up in the centre of a sea anemone. Why was Marlin able to sleep so soundly within the poisonous arms of an anemone? The mutualistic relationship between these two organisms shall explain this.

Most clownfish, or anemonefish, species are resistant to the toxins generated by sea anemone. For certain species that are not resistant, the mucus membrane on their skin protects them from the toxins. This resistance allow them to hide and camouflage themselves within the arms of a sea anemone, protecting them from predators which are not resistant to the toxins. While protecting the anemonefishes, the sea anemone derive benefits from them too. The anemonefish help to get rid of parasites in the sea anemones and provide them with nutrients by excretion.

Though only one side of this relationship was clearly portrayed in the film, Disney surely drew more attention to these special interactions between animals among the general public!

  1. Predator-prey relationships

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Credit: https://dettoldisney.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/disney-vs-nature-3-the-lion-king/

This relationship is rather accurately portrayed in the circle of life of The Lion King.

The bottom of the food chain is trees, shrubs and grass in the savanna, which are fed on by zebras and elephants. They’re in turn preyed on by cheetahs, hyenas and lions. This was explained by Mufasa to Simba as they overlooked Pride Rock. In The Lion King, the lions were not seen interacting with gazelles and zebras the way different species of animals do in other anthropomorphized films.

On the flip side, in the recent popular film Zootopia, predators and preys live in a community together in the city of Zootopia. The rabbit Judy Hoops and the fox Nick Wilde even became best buddies at the end of the story. While the threat of predators pouncing onto their prey out of “animal instincts” still remains, it is social stigmatised rather than recognised as natural behaviour. This shows that in the attempt to reflect societal issues by personifying animals in their films, Disney has inevitably compromised the biological relationships between certain species.

With the animation industry’s fondness towards non-human characters, the element of anthropormorphism in films has definitely been significantly amplified. From simply giving the animals linguistic speech and humanistic emotions, animals in recent films have increasingly human behaviours and cultures. Perhaps from now onwards, we can all pay a little more attention to the details that filmmakers have purposefully incorporated into the films!

References

Aquaviews. (2018, October 05). 5 Symbiotic Relationships in the Ocean – AquaViews. Retrieved from https://www.leisurepro.com/blog/explore-the-blue/5-marine-symbiotic-relationships/

Extreme Science. (n.d.). Are elephants really afraid of mice? Retrieved from http://www.extremescience.com/elephants-afraid-of-mice.htm

Mebs, D. (1994). Anemonefish symbiosis: vulnerability and resistance of fish to the toxin of the sea anemone. Toxicon, 32(9), 1059-1068.

Melina, R. (2016, June 01). Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/33261-elephants-afraid-of-mice-.html

Yin, C. (2013, May 20). Lion King-Biology Project. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/l39zl1itkw_c/lion-king-biology-project/

 

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